Minnesota rolled into Austin on a windy Sunday night wearing their sky blue river kits with hopes of handing the Verde and Black their first loss on home turf since doing exactly that in a 1-0 win at Q2 Stadium 176 days ago. Not an easy task, especially not in front of the Austin FC faithful packing Q2 Stadium to the tune of a 21st consecutive sellout. 

Manager Adrian Heath had the privilege of picking from a Loons side that came into the match almost fully fit for the first time this season and made a couple changes from the jump. After starting the previous five games with a 4-2-3-1 shape, Minnesota started this one in a 4-3-3, the same formation they played in the second half of last week’s 2-1 loss to Seattle.

Loons captain Wil Trapp held down the middle of the 4-3-3, with a couple teammates making their debuts as starters to his left. Honduran international Joseph Rosales, whose dynamic play was on display in last week’s second half, started on the left alongside Trapp and in front of Kemar Lawrence making his first start in black and blue at left back.

The opening whistle marked a couple of significant milestones for Austin FC. Old friend Ethan Finlay made his first start against the Loons since his departure in free agency. And Diego Fagundez, the longtime standout for the New England Revolution, became the youngest player in Major League Soccer history to make 300 regular season starts.

Both teams struggled to find a breakthrough during a chaotic first 45 minutes. The hosts controlled nearly 70% of the possession in the early going, frustrating the Loons who just couldn’t find the extra pass to spark an attack. Minnesota still made it into the locker room with everything equal at the halftime whistle. Both teams registered just one first half shot, and neither were on goal.

Neither Dayne St. Clair for the Loons nor Brad Stuver in goal for Austin were called to action early, but that wasn’t due to a lack of space available for both teams. Finlay, the former Loon, had a chance to open the scoring in the 15th minute after getting behind Lawrence deep down the right flank, but the ball in for him was much too heavy and went out for a goal kick.

Opportunities opened up for the Loons on the counter attack at the half hour mark. Amarilla got the ball in space and raced down the right flank on one of the juicier attacking chances in the first half. The Paraguayan international found Rosales in the middle of the box, who took the cross down with a nice first touch but couldn’t keep possession long enough to try and test Stuver.

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The second half was rife with opportunities on both ends of the field, and Minnesota pushed hard to find the day’s first goal in the opening 10 minutes. Rosales again found himself at the front of MNUFC’s best chance, absolutely ripping a left-footed shot after Lawrence found him in space at the edge of the box, but his blast went straight to Stuver, who sent the rebound opportunity just inches away from the waiting foot of Robin Lod.

Minnesota’s failure to convert the opportunity into a goal came back to bite them just minutes later.

Fagundez forced a takeaway from Trapp in the final third and played a ball to Maxi Urruti at the top of the box. Minnesota centerback Bakaye Dibassy managed to dispossess Urruti temporarily, but couldn’t clear the ball to safety. Urruti went to ground to try and earn a penalty kick. He may not have earned the whistle from referee Rosendo Mendoza, but he stayed on the ground long enough for the Loons defense to forget he was there. Hector Jimenez crossed the ball back into the box, where the unmarked Argentine veteran was waiting to uncork a sweeping first-time, right-footed finish to give Austin the 1-0 lead.

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The Loons made a number of changes after the goal to try and find the equalizer, and both clubs made the maximum number of subs allowed before the night was done. A trio of Franco Fragapane, Oniel Fisher, and Romain Métanire, making his 2022 debut, subbed on for Rosales, Lawrence, and Trapp respectively.

The jolt of energy from the substitutes combined with the play of Kervin Arriaga, who was a thorn in the side of the Austin midfield all night, brought the Loons close to finding an equalizer. The best of Minnesota’s second-half chances came in the 82nd minute after winning a corner off Austin defender Ruben Gabrielsen.

Emanuel Reynoso’s cross from the flag found Bongokuhle Hlongwane, who put a glancing header right on frame, but instead of nestling into the back of the net, the ball found the feet of Fagundez and all of his 300 MLS starts for a heartbreaking clearance off the line. 

As close as Minnesota was to halving the points, they were equally close to conceding another goal or two as well. Heart and soul defending from Michael Boxall in a couple tight spots saved at least two more goals from Los Verdes. Urruti nearly picked up a brace with a chip shot on goal with St. Clair off his line in the 77th minute, but Boxall swooped in and headed the ball off the line to keep the difference at 1-0. Daniel Pereira had another clear look on goal for Austin FC 12 minutes later, but couldn’t beat Minnesota’s lockdown centerback.

There was plenty of time and plenty of opportunities to be had at the death for Minnesota after fourth official Rubiel Vazquez awarded six minutes of added time.

The best chance of stoppage time was generated by Arriaga, who got the ball to Hlongwane in space at the edge of the box with under a minute to play. The South African international opted to test Stuver and put a shot on frame, but couldn’t put enough zip on his shot to truly test the Austin keeper and the Loons fell by a single goal for the second consecutive week.

Minnesota will try to get back in the win column next week when they host fellow Western Conference foe, the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night at Allianz Field.

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Minnesota United FC vs. Colorado Rapids

Allianz Field | St. Paul, Minnesota

04.16.22 | MLS Game No. 7

7:00 pm CT (Bally Sports North, SKOR North)